Environmental groups win key Everglades protection legal fight

The Everglades
The Everglades, National Park Service photo

Seven environmental groups won a key legal victory Monday in a case over pollution in two of South Florida’s most critical natural areas: Everglades National Park and the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. A federal judge blocked an attempt to ditch federal oversight of Everglades cleanup.

Earthjustice, the Florida Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife, and Audubon Society of the Everglades argued that the federal oversight – which dates back to 1992 – was key to enforcing water quality improvements for agricultural polluters.

Federal judge Federico Moreno rejected a request to let Florida out of the historic legal agreement the state made to clean up the Everglades National Park. The so-called “consent decree” requiring federal oversight was signed in 1992 to settle a lawsuit that the federal government filed because Florida was allowing too much dirty water from sugar farms and other industrial agriculture operations to run into Everglades National Park and the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

“The ruling is a victory for the Everglades. The job of cleaning up the Everglades is not done. We’re happy to see that the critical protections for the Everglades will remain in place,” said Alisa Coe, attorney for the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, legal counsel for the environmental groups in the case.

The South Florida Water Management District governing board – made up of people appointed by former Gov. (now U.S. Senator) Rick Scott – had tried to wriggle out of the agreement. That’s when environmental groups intervened in court.

“We are relieved that Rick Scott’s attempt to give a parting gift to Big Sugar has failed,” Sierra Club Organizing Representative Diana Umpierre said in a statement.

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